Continual setbacks meant its opening was almost 10 months late, but the new £300,000 cafe at Hawick’s Wilton Lodge Park finally opened its doors today.
Originally due to open in April last year, the new facility, operated by Bradford-based Caterleisure, welcomed its first visitors in a joint ceremony also including the unveiling of the park’s new McLaren Bridge this afternoon.
Both projects are part of the £3.64m Wilton Lodge Park regeneration project, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Scottish Borders Council.
Honorary Hawick provost, Watson McAteer described the regeneration as the “jewel in the crown of Hawick”.
“With the opening of the new cafe and the McLaren Bridge, the most significant milestone in the project is finally achieved,” he said. “The cafe sits magnificently on the site of its old and much-loved predecessor.
“Many have spent the last few years lamenting the loss of the old cafe and looking forward to this day when a new, fantastic facility for Hawick finally opens for business.
“The project team, while often catching the brunt of frustrated locals, has produced a facility that will generate increased footfall not only for the cafe but for the entire town.”
The new footbridge just behind the cafe, named after the town’s renowned rugby commentator Bill McLaren, was unveiled by Bill’s widow Bette and daughter Linda Lawson, alongside pupils from Drumlanrig primary and Burnfoot community schools who jointly won a competition to name the steel structure.
Mrs Lawson said: “I’ve been trying to think about what dad might be thinking about today, and I think he’d be well chuffed to be recognised, especially by the people of Hawick.
“He lived all his life here in Hawick, and this is where he had his roots.
“He would have been delighted and honoured to have this bridge named after him, especially because it was some of the schoolchildren of Hawick who made that choice.
“Maybe they were influenced a little bit by their parents and grandparents as not many of them would have known of dad otherwise, but however the choice came we, as a family, and mum especially, are absolutely thrilled and thank everyone involved very much. I hope everyone enjoys the park. We come walking here every week and think the improvements have been fantastic. It’s a great credit to all involved.”
Gordon Edgar, the council’s executive member for roads and infrastructure, added: “The most popular choice by far seemed to be the McLaren Bridge in honour of one of Hawick’s famous sons, Bill McLaren. Bill was not just a world-renowned rugby commentator but also a PE teacher at Hawick High School.”
He taught thousands of local pupils over many years therefore it was entirely appropriate that the new bridge at Wilton Park, where Bill would often be seen providing rugby coaching, be named after him. The bridge and the cafe will be a significant asset to Wilton Lodge Park for many years to come and we must thank the Heritage Lottery Fund for their significant support on this project.”